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Police should enforce the traffic rules without bias, at all times

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By MACHARIA GAITHO
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One of those ubiquitous video clips shared on WhatsApp has refused to leave my mind. It shows a head-on collision between two cars, and a passenger being hurled out of the windscreen to almost enter the other car through the same route.

Whether real or staged, it provided a powerful reminder of the need to be securely strapped into the seat at all times. Every person in a car — driver and passengers, including those in the back seats — must fasten a safety belt. This must be done not just because the law says so, but because that belt is often the difference between life and death.

The video reminded me of some interesting encounters over the holiday season.

Caught up in those infernal traffic jams that stretch all the way from Nairobi to Nyeri for those not wise enough to make early starts on the Christmas pilgrimage, my children and I passed time counting the number of motorists without safety belts.

Our interest was not so much in the drivers entitled to their death wish, but in the front seat passengers, mostly women, cradling children on their laps.

We saw children romping about with their foreheads dangerously close to the windscreen. Any collision or application of emergency brakes would shoot the child out of the car like a cannonball.

Some mothers had their charges tightly squeezed onto their bosom, but the iron grip is also useless because the child is turned into a human airbag in case the car is forced into a sudden halt.

We also saw many instances of children at liberty to turn the car into a playing field. The rear seats were used for rolling and jumping about; and that open space between the driver and front passenger seemed a favourite for the more inquisitive ones seeking a clear view of the road ahead. They would be hurled out of the windscreen like javelins in the event of anything untoward.

Now, those observations took place just a few weeks after Interior Cabinet Secretary Fred Matiang’i and Inspector-General of Police Joseph Boinnet launched, with much fanfare, a crackdown on errant motorists — particularly the public transport service sector, which is blamed for much of the carnage on Kenyan roads.

The crackdown, including implementation of the so-called Michuki Rules, was launched after yet another horror bus accident that killed 58 people at Fort Ternan, Kericho County.

In the wake of the accident, matatu and bus operators were given a fortnight, up to mid-November, to install working seatbelts and speed governors, ensure their vehicles are roadworthy and generally meet all the traffic regulations.

Come the appointed date and traffic police went into action. The operation netted hundreds of buses and matatus. Vehicles that did not meet the requirements were impounded and their crews and owners arrested and charged in court.

Dr Matiang’i, his Transport colleague James Macharia and Mr Boinnet warned that the crackdown would be ruthless and would continue until sanity was restored on the roads, particularly in the lead-up to the year-end festive season when road fatalities often spike.

Matatu operators, in usual fashion, responded by pulling their cars off the roads, inconveniencing millions of commuters who depend on public transport.

Dr Matiang’i and the other government nabobs vowed that they would not give in to the ritual blackmail by those who think they are above the law.

It is now apparent, however, that the crackdown has been quietly called off. Matatus are back in full swing in their usual lawless fashion.

The Michuki Rules have not been enforced — save to the extent that they provide a good excuse for policemen to extract stiffer bribes on those roadblocks that have multiplied on the highways.

Meanwhile as matatus run riot, we forget that they are not the only menace on our roads. The unthinking Mum and Dad, who refuses to strap in, and allows Junior to be a potential human missile inside the car, will routinely pass dozens of police checkpoints without being put right.

Then there is that menace of four-wheel-drive behemoths. At first it used to be Cabinet secretaries, country governors, MPs and other big shots who behaved with total impunity — overtaking on blind corners, driving on the wrong side and bullying and forcing other motorists off the road.

Now it seems everybody with a big black car has been given special dispensation by the traffic police to generally act with dangerous arrogance and bad manners. The leadership classes supposed to set the good example have become the worst culprits.

Other motorists will follow their example.

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